Security concerns are complicating the release of a controversial report on “enhanced interrogations techniques,” with officials fearing the document could inflame the Arab Street and put Americans in danger.
The White House and the CIA are working on final redactions to a 481-page executive summary of the investigation, which was conducted by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee but boycotted by Republicans, who dispute its findings.
While an August release seems unlikely, putting the report out in early September might not be an option, as it would fall near the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — a day when terrorist groups typically attempt to strike, as they did two years ago in Benghazi, Libya.
Officials have made clear the release date is a sensitive matter, as Democrats claim the report documents "shocking" brutality during the George W. Bush administration.
In a June 20 court document, the CIA said it would need time before the report is released for the “implementation of security measures to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel and facilities overseas.”
The White House said it is looking to get the report out as “expeditiously as possible” but would be assessing the security situation.
"The president has been clear that he wants this process completed as expeditiously as possible and he’s also been clear that it must be done consistent with our national security," said National Security Spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden in an emailed statement.
“So, prior to the release of any information related to the former [rendition, detention and interrogation] program, the administration will also need to look at any potential security implications and take a series of steps to prepare our personnel and facilities overseas,” she said.
The State Department reportedly warned the White House last year that the release of the report could strain diplomatic relations and put lives at risk. State was particularly fearful that the committee would expose which countries hosted the secret “black sites” where the CIA took prisoners for interrogations, according to The Daily Beast.
Two of the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee cited security concerns when voting against the declassification of the report.
“The Senate Intelligence Committee today voted to send a one-sided, partisan report to the CIA and White House for declassification despite warnings from the State Department and our allies indicating that declassification of this report could endanger the lives of American diplomats and citizens overseas and jeopardize U.S. relations with other countries,” Sens. Marco RubioMarco RubioGOP, Dems hear different things from Trump Senate committee to vote Monday on Tillerson Tillerson met with top State official: report MORE (R-Fla.) and James Risch (R-Idaho) said in a statement on April 3.
Not everyone is convinced that the report will pose a security threat.
Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA case officer who supports aggressive interrogations, said warnings about violent protests overseas are "make-believe."
"Given the Middle east is cracking up, this [report] will not even measure on the Richter scale," he said.
The investigation into the Bush-era interrogations has been contentious, with the CIA pushing back hard on its findings, including claims that the agency misled Congress and the White House while using techniques that critics say amounted to “torture.”
The “enhanced interrogation” methods that were reportedly used included water boarding, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, the use of dogs, close confinement and stress positions, among others.
Former Bush and CIA officials say the classified program was legal and provided critical information that helped thwart attacks and capture al Qaeda leaders.
Senate Democrats say their investigation found that the harsh interrogation methods did not succeed in extracting useful intelligence.
Obama banned the interrogation techniques via executive order after taking office, and Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderTrust Women opposes Sen. Session's nomination Former AG launches redistricting effort to help Dems reclaim power The racism inquisition over Jeff Sessions MORE said there would not be a criminal investigation into the program.
But calls for criminal prosecutions could flare up on the left once the interrogations report is released.
Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinJustice requires higher standard than Sessions Senate to vote Friday on Trump's defense picks Senate seeks deal on Trump nominees MORE (D-Calif.) led the charge to have the investigations declassified, and in April said the report “chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.
CIA director John Brennan agreed to move forward with declassification earlier this year after Feinstein went public with allegations that the agency spied on her staffers during work the report, and accessed computers to take back documents it said were given to the staffers by accident.
The dispute marked a low point in the relationship between the agency and the Intelligence panel.
“The agency is ferociously angry at those who have tried to depict their efforts as immoral and unpatriotic,” Gerecht said. “It believes it conducted itself lawfully and got approval from the executive branch and Congress, and Democrats in Congress are trying to change the rules.”
If the report is released before the November elections, it could become a political weapon for Republicans, who have assailed Obama’s record on national security amid the rise of violent extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.
The political risks haven’t deterred Senate Democrats, who say the release is necessary to close a dark chapter in America's history.
“This program was a blatant violation of domestic and international law,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Washington, D.C. office.
“I certainly hope that he release of the executive summary puts to bed the notion that torture was effective or ever should be considered again,” she said.
Gerecht said the CIA has nothing to fear from the summary being made public.
“If you can’t stand discussing something in the light of day, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” he said.